Friday, November 19, 2010
The Missionary Nature of the Church
Two weeks ago, my very good friend Fr. Sebastian Kolodziejczyk, who is the director of Casa Hogar Juan Pablo II orphanage in Lurin, Peru, gave the annual mission co-op for my parishes in Arcadia and Waumandee. His address on the missionary nature of the Church, and in particular, the place of charity, that is the virtue of caritas, was so inspiring that I have wanted to relate it here so that his message might be more widely known. I am relating his message as best I can recall it in his voice. It's a bit long, but I think that it is worth it. I hope that you will be inspired as I have been.
"Ihave always felt that I have needed to make and excuse for my vocation to priesthood in the missions. I have had this desire to serve in the missions since high school. Even when I announced this to my parish priest, who was very supportive of my more general desire to be a priest, I was immediately called to defend this call. Why should this be?
From the very beginning the Church has been missionary in Her very nature. In the gospels Jesus instructs his apostles to "go out into the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Matthew 28) They didn't wait for Jerusalem to be fully evangelized before spreading out and taking the gospel to all the known world.
How is it that these twelve were able to be so successful? How is it that this little group of Israelites was able to grow and grow to, in a mere 300 years, become the official religion of the empire? I have wondered and wondered about that. I mean, if you were making up a religion that would be appealing to people on a purely human level it wouldn't be Christianity! Think about it. Our God is three persons yet one god. How do you explain that? Jesus Christ is true God yet true man - two natures: human and divine. How do you explain that in any satisfactory way? And the Eucharist, 30% of Catholics in the United States don't even understand and believe that. So how do you explain the growth of the Church? What is its attraction? Where is its power?
Then I was reading a book about the history of the Church and I came across Julian the Apostate. Julian was the emperor a mere 60 years after Constantine legalized the Church, but he was afraid of how influential and powerful the Church had become and so he sought to destroy it. Hence the name "apostate". He decided to bring back the pagan religion of Rome. He put all his imperial weight behind supporting the rise of the pagan priesthood, temples, feasts, and customs. He also made one other thing a part of his pagan revival - charity. Julian recognized that the power of Christianity, its earthly power in any case, was its concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner.
Fr. Joe Walejewski came to the diocese (of La Crosse) from Detroit. He related to then Bishop Treacy how he made a promise to God that, if he were to become a priest, he would spend himself for the missions. Bishop Treacy then allowed him to go to Bolivia where he presented himself to the local bishop and was asked to go and care for the people of the poorer districts of Santa Cruz. So, "Holy Cross Parish" was established. He labored there for many years and established a community of faith which continues to this day under the leadership of Fr. Robert Flock.
From Bolivia, Fr. Joe moved on to Peru where a great earthquake had struck. He started working among the people there when, one day he was walking along and saw a newspaper on the ground move. Under that newspaper he discovered and poor abandoned child. From this experience Casa Hogar was begun.
Through a series of providential occurrances I came to be introduced to him. In time he presented me to Bishop Burke who accepted me as a seminarian for the diocese of La Crosse. After a year of priesthood I returned to Peru to take over the orphanage where I have been director for the past ten years.
Last year I took some of our graduates into the jungle to Oaxapampa where Fr. Joe spent his last years. I was surprised to see that a brand new school had been constructed and even more surprised to see that it had been name "Fr. José School". He had only lived there a few short years and he had made such a huge impact that they named their new school after him!
Last Easter I was told that one of the women who had formed an association to support Fr. Joe's work had entered the Church. I then recalled a conversation that I had had with her some years earlier. She said that she always felt called to do some sort of charity work and everywhere she saw charitable work be done it was under the auspices of the Catholic Church.
When Fr. Joe died the were thousands who attended his funeral, and five bishops among them. As people passed by his coffin the reached out and touched it and then signed themselves with the Cross, the sign that they considered him to be a saint. These people didn't love him because of his eloquence in delivering homilies. They didn't love him for his great ability at explaining the faith. They loved him because he loved them.
Charity is the power of the human side of the Church. No other organization takes it upon itself to look out for the poorest of the poor. No one else cares for the widow and the orphan, the foreigner, the outcast, the sick, and the imprisoned. Anyone who does these things does it, like Julian the Apostate, in immitation of Christ and His Church. That is why it is so important that every member of the Body of Christ be joined with Christ our head in His care for the poor, His work of charity. And that is why I am here today, to offer you the opportunity to join yourselves more fully in this work of the Body of Christ."